A diner’s report
Here’s a window in to my recent dining-out diary. Trends trends trends. That’s what I’m eating. Most start in New York - or, these days, Brooklyn - and they’re here in Australia and New Zealand moments later.
Fried chicken and waffles - yes, for breakfast. Yes, fried chicken, on yes, waffles. Hm. Hm again. Okay, if you had to think of two treat foods and throw them together, maybe you could do worse. Hot dog and soft serve. But really this does not seem the most excellent idea to me, unless perhaps you’re trudging your way home from a 12-hour overnight shift of hard labour having preloaded with a day’s dose of fruit and veg. The particular iteration I tried had a hint of Thai to it to (although what any Thai person would make of this, I remain uncertain, given that immaculate balance is the mainstay of Thai cuisine). Fried chilli and holy basil didn’t change anything. Extra maple syrup was required, as predicted by the NYU-student waiter. Salad was also required, within the next couple of hours.
Brined chicken. Honestly, you couldn’t force me to buy a pre-brined chicken from the supermarket, and yet I’ve ordered chicken three times recently that has been brined by the relevant chef before giving it a good roasting in a woodfired oven. The result is utterly delicious and wonderfully juicy, in a subtly salty way.
Observez vouz. People in Montreal go out to have a capital letters Good Time. They’re not serious, they’re not worried about who else is looking, they’re not an uptight brand of cool; they are pinning their ears back to enjoy themselves, and it makes for the most convivial atmosphere I’ve ever encountered. Make of this what you will, but they make drinking bottles of red wine look like Fun.
A vegetable too far. In the otherwise meat- and fat-crazy culinary city that is Montreal, I visited the most delightful new bar that served very modern, botanically focused small plates. The arrangements of tiny vegetables, herb sprigs, edible flowers and so on were the right side of exquisite, and things started brilliantly with a, well, brilliant green watercress puree soup that was poured over tiny charred onion hearts. As we sashayed into the pick ‘n’ mix style dessert we were feeling bold, but along with the perfect little fruit, delicate marshmallows, sublimely smooth icecreamand so on, the bowl contained the wild card element of onion jelly cubes. And no, they were not a good idea.
Speaking of tiny vegetables. I am generally against very worked and very handled food, which can leave me in a fairly anti-fashion position. Don’t think I can’t be moved though — in New York I shared a starter named “vegetables on a fence”, which began with a custom-made plank with small sharp nails punched up through it to make the (ouch) ‘fence’. Spiked on each nail was a miniature example of premium autumn produce, including a 2cm long carrot, a radish no bigger than my little fingernail, and a tomato the size of a pea. Each vegetable was individually dressed and seasoned to best complement its flavour. This was a true showcase kind of a dish.
A side note: To make hip hospitality people shake in their boots: Sean MacPherson, one of New York’s major hospitality trend setters has decreed: “I think we’ve seen enough reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs.” Better start planning a refit.
Share plates. You can barely get your own main course in Sydney at the moment. It’s either small plates or family style; the upshot is, you’re going to have to negotiate with your fellow diners about what it is you’re all going to eat. Actually, I love this approach to food, but things can get a bit sticky when it comes to selecting dishes with others to make your table’s menu. This means that I don’t choose to dine out with the friends who sit in the cantankerous, picky or food-phobic baskets.
PS. At the point where you thought I couldn’t eat anything without it being fashionable . . . I’m just going to say “buttermilk nectarine cake”. I bought a generous slice at the most excellent local market I’ve ever visited, at Stirling, in the Adelaide Hills. Ripe stone fruit in a moist, sweet-yet-acidic buttery cake. I’m just going to say one more thing. “Make it.”